"During examination he was incidentally found to have an irregular heartbeat, which on further testing was determined to be atrial fibrillation, an abnormal rhythm involving the upper chambers of the heart," Cheney spokeswoman Megan Mitchell told the Associated Press.
Atrial fibrillation, which is more common among people with heart disease, occurs when the upper chambers of the heart beat erratically. Cheney has previously had several heart attacks, quadruple bypass heart surgery, and procedures to clear clogged arteries (angioplasty).
An electrical impulse was used to restore the upper chambers to normal rhythm. The procedure went smoothly and without complication. The vice president returned to work on Tuesday, a Cheney spokesperson told reporters.
What Is Atrial Fibrillation?
Atrial fibrillation is the most common type of irregular heartbeat. It is found in about 2.2 million Americans. In people with atrial fibrillation, the electrical impulse that controls the heartbeat does not travel in an orderly fashion through the heart. Instead, many impulses begin simultaneously and spread erratically and irregularly through the heart. The firing of these impulses results in a disorganized heartbeat.
What Are the Symptoms of Atrial Fibrillation?
Some people with atrial fibrillation have no symptoms at all. It's unclear if Cheney was having symptoms of his atrial fibrillation. If you have symptoms, they may include:
- Heart palpitations (a sudden pounding, fluttering, or racing feeling in the chest)
- Lack of energy; feeling overtired
- Dizziness (feeling faint or light-headed)
- Chest discomfort (pain, pressure, or discomfort in the chest)
- Shortness of breath (difficulty breathing during normal activities or even at rest)
Is Atrial Fibrillation Dangerous?
Many people live for years with atrial fibrillation without problems. However, with atrial fibrillation, the top chambers of the heart beats so rapidly -- essentially quivering -- that blood does not flow through them as quickly. This makes the blood more likely to clot. If the clot is pumped out of the heart, it can travel to the brain, resulting in a stroke. Atrial fibrillation can also decrease the heart's pumping ability.
For these reasons, doctors often use cardioversion to electrically shock the heart back into a normal rhythm.
While not immediately life threatening, longstanding atrial fibrillation does increase the likelihood of death.
How Is Atrial Fibrillation Treated?
Atrial fibrillation is usually treated with medicine or with cardioversion. The goal is to restore the heart back to a normal, regular heartbeat. Treatment depends on the condition of the person's heart and any symptoms.
Cardioversion frequently restores a normal rhythm, although its effect may not be permanent. After a short-acting anesthesia is given, a machine is used to deliver specific amounts of energy (an electric shock) through electrode patches placed on the chest to synchronize the heartbeat and restore a normal rhythm. Although this procedure only takes a few seconds, several attempts may be needed to restore a normal rhythm.